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Frederick Douglass: A Narrative 


THE life of Fredeiifk Douglass reads like a romance, at times 
almost tragie in its develoiTment. Born on the forsaken 
Eastern fShore of ^laryland, the exact date of his l>iitli 
unknown to him, l)orn a slave and suffering all which that condition 
entailed in the first quarter of the nineteenth century, he lived to 
gain the respect of the whole enlightened world and the admira- 
tion and friendship of rulers of the earth. 

His mother, having nothing else to liestow upon him. started him 
off in life with the resounding cognomen of Frederick Augus'ra; 
"Washington Bailey. This name has com])anion3 soon shortened to 
"Gus. Bailey," and by the latter title he was knovrn for some ye:irs. 
While still very young, he was separated from bis mother, and hi> 
earliest recollections of her were that she would often steal from 
the plantation where she worked, miles away, and would come to 
see him in the middle of the night. She died while her beloved 
son v.'as still vt^y young. 

At an early age Frederick was sent to Baltimore, loaned as a 
comj)?nicn and playmate for little Tommy Auld, son of ^Ir. and 
^Irs. Hugh Auld. relations-in-law to Col. Anthony who was Fi'cd's 
real o'snier; he remained with the Anlds seven years. While Hugh 
Auld was, at the worst, antagonistic to little Fred and at the best 
indiff'erent. his wife. Sophia, was friendly, even tender to the 
motherless slave child. INIrs. Auld taught him th-^ rudiments 
of reading and was very proud of his aptness, but when her hus- 
l)and discovered what she was about he sternly forbade her to 

When al)()ut sixteen years old, because of a disagreement between 
Hugh and Thomas Auld. the latter of whom was now his owner. 
Frederick was sent to work with other slave •; on the farm of Edward 
Covey, notorious as a ''Negro-breaker." It was here that Fred 
made his first resistance against the system of slavery. Covey, 
the overseer, had often beaten him most brutally, but at the end 
of six months Frederick determined that he should not do so again. 
So vigorously did he protect himself by overpowering and fright- 
ening' Covey that the latter did not again dare to attack him. Tn 
1836 in company AVith some other slaves he made an attemi)t to 
escape from slavery. They were caught and Frederick was once 
more sent to Hugh Auld in Baltimore. 

GopyrigKt. 1921, by Leila Amos Pendleton. Washington. D. C. 

Tired of the humiliations and vicissitudes of slavery, he deter- 
mined in 1838 to make another bold stroke for freedom, this time 
alone. He borrowed a "Sailor's Protection" (of equal value to a 
"free paper") from a sea-faring- friend, dressed himself in sailor 
fashion and boarded the train to Philadelphia. His calm and dig- 
nified deportment, in spite of inward trepidation, 8tood him in good 
stead ; three times he was in danger of being- recognized but he 
succeeded in reaching the Quaker City unmolested. He went on 
to New York the same night, September 3rd, 1838, and found there 
a measure of the freedom for which his soul longed. 

Fortunately he came under the protection of Mr. David Ruggles. 
the Underground Railroad worker, who gave him shelter and from 
whose home he sent for his intended wife, ^liss Anna ^lurray, a 
free woman of Baltimore. They were married by the Rev. J. W. 
C. Pennington, a noted Presbyterian divine of the day. Frederick 
Bailey was at that time an expert ship's calker, and upon the 
advice of friends he at once took his bride to New Bedford where 
there were many opportunities for plying his trade. Here he found 
in Mr. and Mrs. Nathan Johnson kind and true friends of his own 
race. At Mr. Johnson's suggestion he changed the name of Bailey 
for that of Douglass of which character Mr. Johnson had just been 
reading in Sir Walter Scott's "Lady of the Lake." Douglass 
selected February 14. 1818, as his birthday. 

The white workmen threatened to strike if he was employed with 
them at his trade of calker, so Douglass was forced to earn a liveli- 
hood at whatever came to hand. In his own words he ''sawed 
wood, shoveled coal, dug cellars, inoved rubbish from back yards, 
worked on the wharves, loaded and unloaded vessels and scoured 
their cabins." His first job in liis free estate was to put away a 
large pile of coal for the wife of the distinguished ITnitarian min- 
ister, Rev. Ephraim Peabody. Humble as were these occupations. 
the newly-freed man worked at them gladly, for his time, his labor, 
his money were now his own. After this he found a better-paying 
grade of employment in an oil factory, then in a brass foundry. 

About this time Douglass was given a copy of the Liberator, the 
Abolitionist paper of which William Lloyd Garrison was editor, 
and shortly after this attended a lecture by Garrison at Liberty 
Hall. Here he heard enunciated for the first time the thoughts 
and ideals which for years had been surging within him ; naturally 
his delight was unbounded. 

In 1839, Edwin Thompson, another noted Abolitionst, traveled 
through Massachusetts making speeches in the anti-slavery cause. 
Mr. Douglass was present at one of these meetings held in New 
Bedford, and some years afterward said that after Garrison it 

was Thompson who waked him up on the sulyect and by quoting 
some of Wliittier's poems, inspired him and made him feel, ind -ed. 
a new man. In 1844, ^Mr. Donghiss was, after mueh begging and 
pe:sua-ion, induced to rehito to the congregation ( f tlie Rev. 'J'ljomas 
James — himself an ex-slave — the stoiy of his experience in slavery. 
This was his first public talk, and though his audience wats small 
and humble, it is .said he was very nei'vous and ill at ease. This 
man who was destined to stir the world by his oratoiy, was at first 
overeome by timidity at the thought of addressing an audience of 
his o\^^l people. 

William C. Coffin was present at this meeting. Later at a large 
anti-slavery ccmvention held in Nantucket I\Ir. Coffin sought Doug- 
lasG out and prevailed upon him to address the convention. Of 
this occasion Mr. Douglass says, "It was with the utmost difficulty 
that I could stand erect or that I could command and articulate 
two words without hesitation and fetammering. I trembled in every 
limb. I am not sure that my embarrassment was not the most 
effective part of my speech, if speech it could be called. JNIr. Gar- 
rison followed me, taking me as his text. And now, whether I had 
made an eloquent plea in behalf of freedom or not, his was one 
never to be forgotten. Those who had heard him oftenest and had 
known him longest were astonished at his masterly effort." The 
result of that meeting was that Douglass was employed as a travel- 
ing agent of the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society to solicit sub- 
scriptions to the Liberator and the Anti-Slavery Standard. He 
addressed many large meetings, and as he was brought to realize 
his possession of the divine gift of oratory, he went from triumph 
to triumph. 

Like water seeking its level, he made one acquaintance after 
another among the enlightened, broadminded. cultured people of 
Massachusetts; for people of that caliber were the only ones who 
were capable of appreciating him. He consorted with the noble 
company who were working for the overthrow of slavery — Wendell 
Phillips. William Lloyd Garrison, Owen Lovejoy, and many others; 
and since he realized that the love of freedom is not bounded by 
sex, he threw his support also to the cause of equal suffrage, and 
was the friend of such noble women as Elizabeth Cady Stanton, 
Lucretia ]\lott. Sojourner Triith, the Grimke sisters, Susan B. 
Anthony and a host of others. 

It is interesting to note that about this time, the ''Jim. Crow" 
ear law was in full force in iNFassachusetts and colored persons were 
forced to travel in a rough car with hard seats, mueh as in the 
case in the Southern States today. Those who prote>;ted against 
this and entered other ears, were thrown off. While the colored 

people generally accepted this condition, ^W. Douglass had many 
altercations with conductors and brakenien ; l)ut his own people 
complained of him as making matters worse instead of better by 
refusing to submit to this proscription. He, however, persisted 
and sometimes was soundly beaten. On one occasion, in Lynn, 
several seats were broken in trying to get him out as he had become 
"so much attached" to his place. The outcome of that occurence 
Avas that the Abolitionists took up the fight against the "Jim- 
Crow" car and did not cease until the abominations were removed 
from New P^ngland. 

This brings to mind a story told of .Mr. Douglass and the Jim- 
Crow cars of the South. 

It is said that on a. certain occasion he had an engagement to 
lecture in a southern city and toward the end of his journey was 
compelled to use the section reserved for colored people, which in 
this case was an end of a freight car. This, it will easily be under- 
stood, was particularly obnoxious, and when the delegation which 
went to meet him saw him in such surroundings they began to 
apologize that coming to them had caused him to be so humiliated 
and degraded. Drawing himself up to his full height, the grand 
old man replied, "Gentlemen, by ignoble actions I may degrade 
myself, but nothing and no man can degrade Frederick Douglass." 
Those words should never be forgotten, for the lesson they teach 
is worthy of imitation by all. Be master of your soul, do nothing 
that is ignoble and whenever an attempt is made to embarrass or 
humiliate you, you will be able to treat it with the contempt it 

In 1845 Mr. Douglass went to Eui-ope to lecture on slavery ; on 
the trip over he was not allowed a first cabin berth. As the ship 
neared her journey's end, the captain gave to the first cabin passen- 
gers a complimentary dinner, after which some of the passengers, 
knowing of Douglass' presence on board, desired to hear him speak. 
As soon as he began a great uproar was started by those who at 
heart were slaveholders, and there were loud cries of "Kill him." 
"Throw him overl)oard." and for a time he was in great danger. 
The captain, however, took his part, and invited those who did not 
wish to hear Douglass to leave the dining saloon, threatening that 
if the speaker was again interrupted, every one of the disturbers 
should be put in irons. then went on and delivered one 
of his most telling speeches. 

Upon his arrival in England his lectur-es upon slavery wer(^ 
delivered to lai'ge aiuliences and won for himself and for his cause 
many friends. A ]>urse of $750 was made up by his English friends 
to purchase his liberty, and he returned to this country a free man. 

In 1S47 lie ])('^;iii tlu' piililicat ion of a newspaper, "The North 
Stai'. "" ill Koclif.itcr. X. V., and the pajxT was widely read by h)vers 
of lil);'ity. Lt I'an several years. While living' in Rochester his 
little daiiti'litei-. Husetta, apj)lied foi- admission to the public schools, 
but was denied on account of color. Mr. Douj^huss at once bejijan 
to fiji'lit the silly i)re.)udice and did not rest until "every door of 
the j)ublic schools of Jloche.ster not only swung wide open to the 
admission of his own children, but to every child of every race." 

^Ir. Douglass had become an intimate friend of John Brown, 
and in 1859 a di--ipatch was sent to the sheritt* of Philadeli)hia. 
where Mr. Douglass was at the time, to arrest him for eomi)lieity 
in the John Brown raid. The telegraph operator, being a friend 
of Douglass, held up the dispatch and left his office in search of 
Douglass' friends, advising them to hurry the latter out of the 
country. This they did. and the dispatch was not delivered until 
Douglass was well on the way to Rochester. He reached home in 
safety, went over into Canada, thence to Europe Avhere he remained 
until danger was over. 

At the begininng of the Civil War he returned to this country 
and helped persuade President Lincoln to arm the Negrees; the 
colored regiments of Massachusetts were, raised with his active 
assistance, his sons becoming members of the famous r)4th Massa- 
chiLsetts Vohmteers. 

Long after the Civil War Mr. Douglass told the following story 
of his life to the pupils of a colored school in Talbot County, Mary- 
land, the county in w^hich he was born : "I once knew a little eolore<l 
boy whose father and mother died when he was six years old. He 
was a slave and had no one to care for him. Ilie slept on a dirt 
Hoor in a hovel, and in cold weather would crawl into a meal bag, 
head-foremost, and leave his feet in the ashes to keep them warm. 
Often he would roast an ear of corn and eat it to satisfy his hunger, 
and many times has he crawied under the barn or stable and secured 
eggs, which; he would roast in the fire and eat. 

"This boy did not wear pants like you do, but a tow linen shirt. 
Schools were unloiown to him, and he learned to spell from an old 
Webster's spelling book, and to read and write from posters on 
cellars and barn doors, while boys and men Avould help him. He 
would then preach and speak, and s(K)n became well known. He 
finally held several high positions and accumulated some wealth. 
He wore broadcloth and did not have to divide crumbs with the 
dogs under the table. That boy \vas Frederick Douglass. 

"What was posrsible for me is possible for you. Do not think 
because you are colored you ctumot accomplish juiythin^r. Strive 
earnestly to add to your knowledge. 80 long as you remain in 

ignorance, .so long will you fail to conmiand the respect of j'onr 
fellownien. ' ' 

In September. 1870, Douglass became the editor of the Xeic 
National Era at Washington, which was continued by his sons, 
Lewis and Frederick. 

Besides his splendid work in other directions, Mr. Douglass held 
several public positions of honor and truf;t. In 1871 he was ap- 
pointed assistant secretary to the Commission to San Domingo ; 
upon finishing that task he was appointed a member of the Upper 
House of the Territorial Legislature of the District of Columbia, 
which he had previoiLsly chosen for his permanent home. In 1872 
he was presidential eleetor-at-large for the state of New York ; he 
was successively appointed United States Marshal for the Di strict 
of Columbia, Recorder of Deeds for the same place, and U. S. ^lin- 
i.ster to Haiti. The sympath}^ and insight which he showed for the 
people of that Republic endeared him to them and his memory is 
held in greatest reverence by all patriotic Haitians. ]Mr. Douglass 
was married in 1884 to Miss Hielen Pitts. 

Mr. Douglass died at his home, Cedar Hill, Anacostia, D. C, 
February 20th. 1895, at the age of seventy-seven. An immense 
throng attended the funeral services held in Metropolitan A. M. E. 
Church, Washington, and many glowing tributes were paid to his 
w^orth. Mrs. Elizabeth Cady Stanton sent a letter which was read 
by ]\Iiss Susan B. Anthony. The following is an extract: "I saw 
]\Ir. Douglass first before a Boston audience, when he was fresh 
from the land of bondage. He stood there like an African prince, 
conscious of his dignity and power, grand in his physical propor- 
tions, majestic in his w^rath, as with keen wit, satire and indigna- 
tion he portrayed the bitterness of slavery, the humiliation of hav- 
ing been subject to those who in all human virtues and capabilities 
were inferior to himself. His denunciation of our national crime, 
of the wild and guilty fantasy that men could hold property in 
man — poured like a torrent that fairly made his hearers tremble. 

"Thus I first saw him and wondered as I listened that any mortal 
man should have ever tried to subjugate a being with such marvel- 
ous powers, such self-respect, such intense love of liberty. Around 
him sat the great anti-slavery orators of the day, watching his 
effect on that immense audience, completely magnetized with his 
eloquence, laughing and crying by turns with his rapid flights from 
pathos to humor. All other speakers seemed tame after Douglass. 
Sitting near I heard Wendell Phillips say to Lydia ]\Iaria Child, 
'Verily, this boy, who has only just graduated from slaverv. throws 
us all in the shade.' 'Ah,' she replied, 'the iron has entered his 
soul and he knovsis tlie wTongs of slavery subjectively ; the rest of 
you speak only from an objective point of view. " 


Due to tile iiiitii-iii<i; efforts of tlie widow of Fi-edci'ick Doii^lfiss. 
iMis. Helen Pitts Dou^'lnss, and afler many disappoint iiients and 
discouragements, the Douglass Menioiial and Ilistorieal Assoeiation 
wa,> chartered by Congress in !!)()( I. It was the most ardent desire 
of Mrs. Douglass' heart that Cedar Hill slioidd l)ecome as dear to 
the colored ]ieople as is M\. Vernon to <dl Anici-ica. Over and often 
she discussed tliis matter with the writer, and on one occasion slie 
said, "Oil, that 1 could make the people realize that there was never 
in the history of the whole world such a man as Frederick Doug- 
lass and that there never can be his like again. If every colored 
jierson in America w(»uld give but one ])enny each Cedar Hill could 
be made a fitting memoi-ial to him." 


From ''Life and Times of Freclericl- Douglass'' 

"Conscience cainiot stand too mnch violence; once thoronglily 
injured, who is he who can repair tlie damage?" 

"Freedom of choice is the essence of accountability." 

"The feeling of the nation must be quickened, the conscienc(^ of 
the nation must be aroused." 

"The secret of all oppression is in the pride, the power and the 
avarice of man." 

"Sorrow and desolation have their songs as well as peace and ,joy." 

"Life is not lightly regarded by men of sane minds." 

"Such is the power of public opinion that it is hard even for the 
innocent to feel the hapi)y consolation of innocence when they 
fall under the maledictions of this power." 

"It is not a bad thing to have individuals or nations do right 
though they do it from selfish motives. ' ' 

"Mr. Lincoln was not only a great President, but a great man — too 
great to be small in anything." 

"A man's head will not long remain wrong when his heart is 
right. ' ' 

"If the Negro knows enough to fight for his country, he knows 
enough to vote; if he knows enough to pay taxes for the sup- 
port of the government, he knows enough to vote." 

"I will continue to pray, labor and wait, believing that America 
cannot always be insensible to the dictates of justice or deaf 
to the voice of humanitv." 


'Progress of a Race" — Crogman. 

■ Men of Mark ' ' — Simmons 

'Life and Times of Frederick Douglass'" — Douglass. 

'Cyclopedia of American Biography "^ — Appleton. 







H 73 78 544f 


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